Six Questions with an Autism Parent and Professional
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Six Questions with an Autism Parent and Professional

The following is a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future

By John Kelly, Academic Coordinator

John Kelly, CLE Costa MesaEspecially during Autism Awareness Month, College Living Experience (CLE) likes to honor and give voice to the many and diverse voices in the autism community. Debora Smith is one of those voices. As a parent of a young adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a professional who has worked in the field, Debora shared her experiences and expertise with us in this interview.

Co-author of Teaching my Teacher about Autism, Debora has served as president of the Orange County Asperger’s Support Group. She is currently a member of the Interagency Autism Group, a member of the Orange County Autism Regional Taskforce, and board member of the Educational Foundation for Independence. Recently, she formed her own consulting business, ARM | Autism Resource Mom, and currently lives in Orange County, California with her husband and son.

1. You’ve worked for a lot of resource organizations helping individuals with autism. What lead you to form Autism Resource Mom?

Debora Smith, Autism ParentUpon receiving the diagnosis of autism for our son, I jumped in with both feet to try and learn all I could to help him. Back then, there were no big organizations to show us the way. There were no guide books. So, like many other parents out there, I became a sponge, soaking up everything I could about my son’s behaviors. I joined a support group. And I eventually led that support group. I joined boards, committees, task forces and attended workshops, seminars and conferences. And what I learned, I shared with others. It finally dawned on me that other parents were seeking my advice and input on a regular basis. So in 2012, I became official and formed ARM | Autism Resource Mom, a business that allows me to provide individual guidance services to families—with a focus on school services, behaviors, executive functioning skills and independent living skills.

2. As a professional, what advice would you give to other parents of students with autism about transitioning out of high school into the adult world?

For those less involved on the spectrum, my advice is to put greater emphasis on daily life skills rather than fretting over academics. It’s no secret that with this population, most possess average to above-average intelligence. Most of these students are not going to flunk out of high school. But do they know how to change a light bulb, cook their own meals, wake to an alarm, do their laundry, or make a doctor’s appointment? In our experience with our son, these skills aren’t taught in school because he’s too high-functioning. So if you want your children to successfully transition out of high school and into the adult world, do them a big favor, and prepare them early. Start in grade school. No joke. CLE has produced a terrific skills checklist that we’ve been using for the past several years.

3. What advice would you give to those parents about that transition as a parent of a student with autism?

ARM - Autism Resource MomDon’t expect your student to do things the same way you do them. You’ll just be frustrated. And he’ll become anxious. Simply meet your child where he or she is.

Go nuts with positive support to help build their confidence. A little of that goes a long, long way.

Do prepare to be blown away. When you least expect it, they’ll exceed your expectations. And boy, is that a treat.

4. You have a unique perspective as a parent of a student with autism and a professional working to help individuals with autism and their families. Can you describe any special insights you’ve gained as a result of this intersection?

All kids are special. All kids have needs. And all kids have gifts. The attitude with which we face these realities can make a difference. A huge difference. Be positive and supportive, rather than negative and critical. Think about it. That works for just about everyone.

5. What is an experience you’ve had that you might otherwise not have enjoyed were your child typically developed?

I probably wouldn’t have documented so much of his life—I know when he first started using pronouns correctly, when his echolalia stopped, when his stimming morphed into more acceptable behaviors, and when he transitioned from monochrome “coloring” to daring to use more color, thanks to the loving guidance of one of his educators. I could go on and on. These are precious moments to me, as they’ve all formed him into the very cool young adult he is today. Without his diagnosis, I might not have paid attention to these details that I so cherish. Also, I most likely wouldn’t have met the incredible people at CLE. That would be a loss for our entire family!

6. April is Autism Awareness Month. In six words, how do you honor autism?

Everyday teach someone something about autism. I do this year ‘round — not just in April!

Newsletter Articles – April 2015

Hayden and Danny - Asperger Experts

Have you ever met someone, heard their story, and were left so inspired and moved that you were speechless? Well that’s how I felt after my interview with Hayden Mears, co-founder and co-owner of Asperger’s Experts, a now flourishing internet-based company.

Hayden Mears and Danny Raede, the founders and owners of Asperger’s Experts, first met while they were attending College Living Experience in Denver in 2011. They “hung out and got close” according to Hayden, with no premonition of where their friendship would take them. In 2012, after doing well in the CLE program, Hayden decided to leave CLE and return home to his mother’s house in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Alec CLE Austin

During this month of Autism Awareness, we at CLE embrace the diversity of our students’ experiences, interests and talents, and we also recognize the limitations that diagnoses and labels like ‘autistic’ can impose. A person is so much more than any one label they may have been assigned. Each of us is made up of our experiences, education, maturity, family history, preferences, interests, talents, strengths, and so much more. This is the story of one young man whose unique life experiences have led him to where he is today, and who is so much more than the limited label of ‘autistic’ can encompass.

Andy Warhol

In honor of Autism Awareness and Acceptance, we are quizzing our readers on what they know about Autism.

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